ANZ, one of Australia’s “Big Four” banks, will stop facilitating withdrawals and deposits from a number of its Australian branches as it seeks to push customers toward an ever-dwindling number of ATMs and deposit machines.
The decision has been met with criticism, with critics such as Patricia Sparrow of the Council of the Ageing Australia telling The Australian that the change may disproportionately affect older people who are less capable of going digital — while others claim it will make fiat users more vulnerable to technical issues. It has also reignited fears that it is the beginning of a campaign to eliminate cash, and that cash may soon be replaced by Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).
In response to Cointelegraph’s questions, an ANZ spokesperson stated that the affected branches are all metropolitan branches with ATMs and deposit machines nearby, and that the move was partially prompted by a 50% decrease in in-branch transactions over the last four years.
According to a March 16 Reserve Bank of Australia bulletin, Australia is gradually transitioning to a cashless society, with the percentage of retail payments made with cash falling from 59% in 2007 to just 27% in 2019. (RBA). The RBA stated that the results of its 2022 survey will be available later this year, but that the COVID-19 pandemic had only accelerated the trend, with businesses also playing a role:
“Furthermore, a sizable proportion of merchants indicated future plans to discourage cash payments.”
The RBA also noted a decrease in ATMs and bank branches across the country, with the number of bank branches falling by 30% since 2017 and ATMs falling by 25% since 2016. One of the major concerns about CBDCs replacing cash is how they will affect individual freedom and privacy, because cash transactions provide anonymity and the ability to conduct transactions without leaving a record.
In Australia, a CBDC pilot program is currently underway, with an update expected around the middle of 2023, and one of the ramifications identified by the RBA was that it could displace the cash Australian dollar. A spokesperson for another of the Big4 banks, NAB, allayed these fears somewhat in an emailed response to Cointelegraph’s questions, saying: “NAB continues to accept cash at our branches and has no plans to change.” Cash will remain an important part of Australian society for as long as our customers desire.”
While the other two Big 4 banks, CBA and Westpac, did not respond to Cointelegraph’s questions by the time of publication, Westpac told The Australian that it had no plans to reduce access to cash through its branches, while a CBA spokesperson was slightly more ambiguous.